Artificial post-flood shortages loom



KARACHI:

A major food crisis in the country would be unlikely in the wake of the devastating downpour and flash floods but the federal as well as provincial government would be required to keep strict check on hoarders to avoid artificial shortage and price hike, according to an initial assessment report on Saturday.

The Ministry of National Foods Security and Research (MNFSR) said in the report that Punjab, which produced almost 70% of the national agriculture output, had by and large remained safe, while the damage to the sugarcane crop was caused only in Sindh, but it was also minimal.

“The water resilient sugarcane crop has largely remained safe nationwide,” the ministry report said. “Only 7% crop of sugarcane had been damaged in Sindh alone, while it remained 100% safe” in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (K-P), it added.

More importantly, it was not the wheat season – the major food crop in the coutnry. “Wheat sowing usually begins after the end of monsoon in October,” Sono Khangharam, a former lecturer at the Sindh Agriculture University, Tando Jam, told The Express Tribune.

The MNFSR said that K-P had reported vegetable losses at 6%, while Sindh reported it at 55%. Tomato and onion crops had been damaged by 20% and 28%, respectively, in Sindh. Potato is not among the damaged crops, as this is not its production season. “The previous crop of potato is lying in storage and its new crop would be cultivated later on,” an MNFSR official said.

Pulses crop had, however, been damaged partially (26% in K-P), the report said. This was the off-season for pulses in Sindh. Their cultivation and harvesting season had yet to come for the ongoing year, Khangharam explained.

The ministry, however, reported the rice [paddy] crop, which the country used to produce in surplus and exported in the past, had been damaged significantly – 6% in K-P and 70% in Sindh. Khangharam said that he had himself witnessed that the rice crop was in good condition in many areas of Sindh.

Khangharam, who visited a number of rain- and flood-hit agriculture fields in Sindh, claimed that “the country would harvest bumper crops of sugarcane and rice [paddy] this year.” He “bet” Pakistan would face no major food crisis due to the floods.

“Pakistan’s staple food, wheat, is not in the fields, while sugarcane and rice have remained water resilient crops,” he said. “However, the country may face crisis of ‘access to food’ in the flood-hit areas only, as we lack capacity to reach to the people in these hours of need.”

On the other hand, cotton and date crops had been wiped out in Sindh – which gave 30% of the national cotton output. On the contrary, Punjab had reported a 3.5% cotton crop loss in the rains, according to the ministry report.

The MNFSR official, who also ruled out a major food crisis in the country, said that the initial loss assessment report was based on pre- and post-satellite images taken by the Pakistan Space and Upper Atmosphere Research Commission (Suparco).

“A low intensity food crisis could be seen this year but that can be managed through additional imports during the year,” the official said. Other ministry officials said that onion price might increase in current season because of its extensive use in cooking.

Sindh, which faced major loss of crops in fields, reported to the MMFSR that it had lost almost 100% cotton – 30% of the national production, 100% date, 70% of paddy crop, 55% vegetables, 47% chili, 28% onion, 22% sesame, 20% tomato and 7% sugarcane.

In monetary terms, Sindh’s crop losses top Rs297 billion. The total national losses increased to around Rs320 billion, including the damages in K-P and Balochistan. Punjab gave no estimates for the financial losses, which stands nominal in volumetric term, as per the ministry’s loss assessment report.

The crops losses estimate at Rs321 billion appeared to be low compared to Rs15.41 trillion size of the country’s agricultural sector, it was learnt. The livestock losses in the floods were estimated at around 500,000 cattle heads.





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